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The untold truth of Marvel's U.S. Agent

Captain America is far from the only patriotic super soldier in the Marvel Universe. In fact, he's not even the only one who's a well-built blond man who signed up with the Army, allied with the Avengers, and uses a vibranium shield. 

Created by artist Paul Neary and writer Mark Gruenwald in 1987, John F. Walker started out as a twisted reflection of Steve Rogers' patriotic ideals. Since then, he's replaced Captain America, forged his own identity as U.S. Agent, had his memories wiped and replaced, and teamed up with Earth's mightiest heroes multiple times. He's even joined the MCU as part of Disney+'s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with actor Wyatt Russell wearing the mask. 

Still, while U.S. Agent is a significant player in the comic book universe, he's not a household name among mainstream Marvel fans. And that's why we're going to run down some of U.S. Agent's weirdest and wildest stories. From fighting alongside aliens to becoming America's most trusted hunter for bail-jumping supervillains, here's the untold truth of Marvel's U.S. Agent.

John Walker, a Super-Patriot

In Captain America #323, readers are introduced to Super-Patriot, the original superheroic identity of U.S. Agent. As Super-Patriot, John Walker seems like the exact opposite of the Captain America that readers know. While Cap was often thoughtful and aware of the responsibility of his uniform, Super-Patriot ignores an old lady being mugged because the crime isn't glitzy enough for him to bother to stop it. He's first introduced trash-talking Cap and urging the American people to focus their patriotic energy on him. 

As you might expect, Cap's not thrilled about the upstart new hero, but he's willing to let Super-Patriot express his first amendment rights … until he finds out that Super-Patriot and his cronies are manufacturing crimes and disasters to make themselves look better. After Super-Patriot and his Buckies (short for "Bold Urban Commandos") cause enough trouble for Cap, Steve Rogers and John Walker finally face off.

Somewhat surprisingly, Walker's not all bluster. He's got super strength and enough fight training that he actually battles Cap to a draw. The fight only ends when Bruce Springsteen shows up, causing Walker to choose listening to the Boss rather than beating up on Captain America. As the old saying goes, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

John Walker, the new Captain America

Captain America has to deal with a lot of stuff, like Hydra or the Winter Soldier, but as it turns out, he's got even bigger problems. The man owes back taxes to the U.S. government. Combined with the fact that his superhero identity, powers, and unbreakable shield are all the property of the federal government, a federal council called the Commission tells the hero that he's no longer able to keep operating as an independent entity. The Commission offers him a choice: Work under their purview, or give up being Captain America. Steve walks out on them, choosing to adopt a black costume and the moniker of the Captain in order to keep his independence.

In Captain America #333, the Commission taps Super-Patriot to replace Cap, training him to fight smarter and work harder. One of Walker's Buckies, Lemar Hoskins, gets the opportunity to join the new Cap as his partner, while the other two are left on their lonesome to become vaguely self-interested supervillains called Left-Winger and Right-Winger. Walker's willing to prove that he's ready for the big time, but he's not quite the pure-hearted patriot that his predecessor was. Unlike the original Cap, Walker's got some serious anger issues stemming from a brother who died in Vietnam and his time getting experimented on by the Power Broker, the man who gave Walker, Hoskins, and the other Buckies their super strength.

Captain America and the Captain team up

Heavy is the head that wears Captain America's little head wings. Almost immediately after taking on the role of Captain America, Walker runs into trouble. His former pals, Left-Winger and Right-Winger, reveal his secret identity to the world in Captain America #341. Four issues later, his parents are killed by the Watchdogs, a militant group of domestic super-terrorists obsessed with keeping America free of "filth." Walker's response is to kill a bunch of the Watchdogs, and then hunt down Left-Winger and Right-Winger to cripple them in a massive oil tanker explosion. That's not exactly acceptable behavior for a Captain America, but the Commission keeps him on anyway. And there's a good reason for that. Perennial thorn in the original Cap's side, the Red Skull, engineered the entire string of events, manipulating the Commission, Walker, and even the Watchdogs, all in order to drag Cap's good name through the mud.

It all comes to a head in Captain America #350, when the Captain and Walker team up to take down the Red Skull. When the dust settles, Walker is impressed with the original Cap's convictions and skill. When the Commission begs Rogers to take back the suit, he refuses, but Walker convinces him to return, admitting that the job was harder than he thought it would be.

The birth of the U.S. Agent

Captain America #351 sees Walker return the Captain America suit and shield to Rogers during a press event, but the celebration is cut short when Walker is brutally shot by a Watchdog, who's soon killed himself by the homicidal vigilante, Scourge. Lemar Hoskins, Walker's former partner now operating under the moniker Battlestar, finds something suspicious about the series of events, eventually discovering that the Watchdog who murdered Walker wasn't a real member of the organization. Instead, he was a government agent who faked Walker's death to give the former Captain America time to undergo memory implants, plastic surgery, and vocal lessons in order to begin a new identity as Jack Daniels, aka U.S. Agent. However, it's not quite a completely fresh start, as his new outfit looks just like Steve Rogers' "the Captain" suit. Plus, he's still got a vibranium replica shield.

The Commission puts U.S. Agent to work as their man on the inside for the West Coast Avengers — a group of also-rans operating out of Los Angeles instead of New York. While on the team, U.S. Agent doesn't exactly make friends. For example, he yells at Vision for not wearing pants. And eventually, he joins the team in fighting Master Pandemonium, a former movie executive who made a deal with the devil and stole the Scarlet Witch's imaginary babies to use as his arms in Hell. That's not exactly the type of threat that a super strong patriot is equipped to handle. While on the team, U.S. Agent's old friend Battlestar shows up to restore his memories and remind him that he's not just a government stooge. Since that also means remembering that his parents are dead, it's a bit of a mixed blessing for John/Jack.

U.S. Agent fights the Scourge

It might seem like U.S. Agent only battles against Captain America's arch-enemies alongside Cap's old friends, while never having any adventures of his own, but that's not true. In the U.S. Agent miniseries, John Walker battles against Scourge, the vigilante that shot the man who pretended to shoot Walker way back in Captain America #351. Yeah, we know, it's kind of confusing, but it gets crazier. As it turns out, this Scourge isn't the same guy as the one before. Instead, Scourge is an identity offered up to basically anyone who wants it. Each Scourge is given the same training, information, and resources to go around and murder supervillains, kind of like the Punisher.

However, when the newest Scourge, Priscilla Lyons, is tasked with gunning down a bad guy, she suddenly decides she can't do it, as it seems the villain has genuinely reformed. Of course, the rest of the Scourge aren't pleased about this, so Lyons begs U.S. Agent to help her stay alive. But after they team up to find the source of the Scourge organization, U.S. Agent is captured, drugged, and eventually released by the Scourge trainer, Bloodstain. Bloodstain then reveals that he's actually Mike Walker, John's brother who was supposedly killed in Vietnam, but that ends up being a mind game to confuse U.S. Agent. Ultimately, Walker finds the true mastermind behind Scourge, a decrepit old man who used to be the old Marvel hero, the Angel (not the X-Man). The former Angel and Bloodstain die in the melee, and the day is saved.

Force Works, and U.S. Agent will prove it

Nothing lasts forever, and that includes the West Coast Avengers. The team comes to an end in West Coast Avengers #102, which finds the main Avengers team criticizing and ultimately firing everyone in the spinoff group. U.S. Agent takes the team's dissolution hard, throwing his shield and costume into the Hudson River. Luckily for him, it doesn't take long for most of the West Coast Avengers to reform into a new group created by Iron Man, a team called Force Works.

U.S. Agent keeps his codename, but he finally dons a costume that wasn't formerly worn by Captain America. Unfortunately, it's terrible. (See the picture above for proof.) It does come with some new weapons, though. To replace the vibranium shield he threw into the Hudson, U.S. Agent is given photon gauntlets that can create a laser shield and shoot laser blasts. Together with Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Spider-Woman, and an interdimensional alien named Century, Force Works battles against a bunch of aliens and dream monsters, proving that no idea or team name was too crazy to publish in the '90s.

Leader of the Jury

For someone who's been around the Marvel universe for as long as John Walker has, he doesn't have the best track record for keeping friends. That's probably because anytime a former pal of his does anything even remotely questionable, Walker is the first one showing up to berate them and send them to prison. 

That's certainly the case when Hawkeye takes over the Thunderbolts, a team of former supervillains who want to start living on the right side of the law. People aren't exactly thrilled that Hawkeye, himself a former criminal, and a bunch of former supervillains are hanging out in Colorado. Their presence leads Walker to become the leader of the Jury, a corporate-owned superhero team that transitions over from symbiote-hunting and bothering Venom to taking down the Thunderbolts.

Since the Thunderbolts are the team with their name on the comic cover, they handily trounce the Jury, eventually sending U.S. Agent bouncing back around the Marvel universe to look for a new job.

Head of S.T.A.R.S.

John Walker pops up again during Marvel's event comic Maximum Security, which sees the former Super-Patriot becoming a superhuman bounty hunter, tracking down supervillain bail-jumpers under the organization S.T.A.R.S. The job also comes with a new costume, which changes the Captain America-esque outfit into a cross between a riot cop and Judge Dredd, complete with an electrically charged riot baton and another photon shield. Walker's new career is complicated somewhat by the revelation that Earth itself has become an interplanetary prison for the worst criminals in the galaxy. That situation is eventually resolved, but Walker sticks around, continuing to hunt down super criminals while trying to prove himself as something more than just a Captain America copy.

Considering how that led to a three-issue miniseries, followed by a brief stint where he wears a fake Captain America costume in order to be a part of the New Invaders (an updated version of the World War II team of Captain America, Namor, Bucky, and the original Human Torch), his efforts to get away from the Steve Rogers comparisons haven't worked out that well.

Retirement and Warden Walker

John Walker has spent most of his career trying to differentiate himself from Steve Rogers. So here's the good news. U.S. Agent eventually does find a way to distinguish himself from Captain America. But here's the bad news. It comes with him getting his arm and leg cut off by Nuke (a patriotic supervillain who pops super steroids) during Siege, an event comic that sees Norman Osborn declaring war on Asgard. Walker's given the option of high-tech prosthetics that would make Luke Skywalker envious, but he accepts his missing limbs and ultimately retires from active duty.

In the interim, he becomes the warden of the supervillain prison, the Raft, assisting Luke Cage in the formation of a new team of Thunderbolts, which uses more traditional supervillains as a kind of probationary superhero team. That group eventually gives way to the Dark Avengers, a team of villains pretending to be their superheroic rivals. While on a mission, Walker and the Dark Avengers are teleported into an alternate reality where, after being mistaken for that reality's John Walker, U.S. Agent gets his limbs restored. After making it back to their home reality, the team vows to stick together through thick and thin, which doesn't really last beyond that final issue.

U.S. Agent can't stop fighting Captain America

Regardless of what team he's on or what the status quo of the Marvel Universe might be, U.S. Agent is inextricably tied to Captain America. That's to be expected when even his post-Captain America identity still has an identical shield and Cap's unused costume. But as it turns out, that connection is consistent even when it's not Steve Rogers wearing the stars and stripes. 

When Sam Wilson, the Falcon, takes over for Captain America after Steve is turned into an old man by a supervillain, U.S. Agent steps in to convince Sam to give up the shield. Despite his lack of super strength, the new Captain America is able to take down the U.S. Agent by dumping him into a pitch-black tunnel and whaling on him until Walker gives up. Still, as with any hero vs. hero conflict, there's a deeper conspiracy going on.

U.S. Agent wasn't just encouraged to attack Sam Wilson because a gung-ho talk show radio host told him to. As it turns out, Steve Rogers actually put him up to it because of some complicated shenanigans involving the Red Skull, the Cosmic Cube, and a massively controversial retcon that saw Steve become a secret Hydra loyalist. But thankfully for Steve Rogers fans, it all got worked out eventually.